That term first came to my mind when, as a child, I’d try to say “stream of consciousness” and end up with “brainflow.” It seems to fit here.

Welcome to the ramblings of my mind. (For now, these ones revolve mostly around films.)

The Lovely Bones

Saturday, January 16th, 2010 10:27 pm—Film

The Lovely Bones (USA/UK/New Zealand 2010, Drama/Fantasy/Thriller), Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson; Director: Peter Jackson

The Lovely Bones has been getting some pretty damning reviews. But to be fair, it’s based on a book (Alice Sebold’s beautiful work of the same name) that is very difficult to adapt to film.

In the novel, the story of raped and murdered 14-year-old Susie Salmon, and the impact of her death on those she leaves behind, is told from Susie’s point of view as she watches from “the in between”—a place somewhere between heaven and Earth. Sebold’s writing moves the reader gracefully from one place to another, watching over Susie’s family, her friends and even her murderer, and spending time in her imagined paradise.

I loved the book and have been waiting a long time for this movie. I was pretty excited when I read that Peter Jackson was on board to direct; he seemed like the perfect person for the job. His Heavenly Creatures showed that he could delve into the imagined lives of teenage girls, and handle dark family matters. The Lord of the Rings trilogy proved beyond any doubt that he was adept at working with CGI and creating rich fantasy worlds on an epic scale.

But somehow Jackson’s background wasn’t enough to do justice to The Lovely Bones. So much of what Susie experiences, both in her heaven and when she interacts with people still on Earth, works perfectly in the novel but is over the top when interpreted literally for the screen. It comes across as hokey. Jackson also tries to cover too much ground, and ends up giving a shallow treatment to many of the characters and subplots that truly made the novel come alive for me (e.g. Susie’s strange and otherworldly classmate, Ruth; her sister Lindsey’s journey; her mother’s struggle and desperation).

It’s been too long since I read the novel for me to say what specifically I’d have cut out. Maybe the answer to a better adaptation lies more in the treatment than in the content; a more experimental, non-narrative approach might have led to greater success. The film could have moved more fluidly between the two worlds, fading from one to the other without following logic and structure, the way dreams happen. I think it would have worked to allow for some ambiguity and confusion in the format for the sake of more clearly developed characters and glimpses into their lives (or afterlives).

In spite of some obvious and significant flaws in the film, I can’t completely write it off. The Lovely Bones has a couple moments that took me right back to the book, almost as though Jackson had crept inside my mind and brought my vision to life. There are also brilliant moments, like the beautiful scene when Susie’s father Jack (Mark Wahlberg), in a fit of rage and despair, destroys the model ships-in-a-bottle he used to build with his daughter, and the boats in Susie’s “in between” simultaneously come apart in the ocean before her.

Although some of the actors aren’t really given enough material to dig their teeth into, the film features some incredible performances. As murderer George Harvey, Stanley Tucci is fantastic and nothing like I’ve seen him before. And as Susie, young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan blows me away. Her portrayal is wonderful, and diametrically opposed to the brilliant, Oscar-nominated performance she gave in Atonement.

Watching The Lovely Bones, I was more fascinated than disappointed. It’s too hard for me to separate the movie from the novel, which I loved; from Sebold’s memoir, Lucky, which I’m reading now, and that accounts for her own experience with rape and trying to merge the seemingly contradictory notions of the world she used to know with the post-assault world she is left to inhabit; and my own fascination with criminology, and interest in understanding social deviants—how they got there, and whether they can ever return from there (my undergrad thesis explored the possible benefits of a reconciliation between sex offenders and their survivors).

Still, I can imagine that for someone who hasn’t read the book and doesn’t share my connections to the movie and its themes, the film would only be uneven, unsatisfying and maybe even a little cloying. People can’t be expected to read the novel as a complement to the film, and research the filmmakers’ histories to get a deeper appreciation for it.

This is a movie that will probably only be of value to people who read the book and are interested in seeing Jackson’s take on it. The real genius of The Lovely Bones is in Sebold’s writing and how she adapted her own experiences to create a transcendent novel, floating—like Susie—somewhere between fantasy and reality.

2 Responses

  1. Genevieve

    I was thinking of going to see this but I think I’ll go read the book instead… Wait for this one to be on Netflix.

  2. amanda

    Hey Gen! If you’re going to read the book as well, you could still see the movie first… I just don’t think it does well as a stand-alone.

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